Column: Stanford sexual assault case far from surprising

Newark Advocate |
Published: June 15, 2016
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I’ll never forget the scene. I was prosecuting a child molester. He was an older man who had molested his granddaughter multiple times. After his conviction, the time had come for the judge to decide the man’s punishment. A crowd gathered in the courtroom and there was tension in the air as I stood up to make my recommendation for a sentence.

Citing the emotional trauma to the young girl and the fact that this offender would likely continue his crimes if he were allowed to remain free, I urged the judge to send him to prison for a lengthy term. The defense attorney called several witnesses – all of them family members who begged the judge to allow this sex offender to go free on probation.

Despite being related to both the victim and the offender, each one of these family members chose to ignore the pain of the little girl. Other than me, no one spoke on behalf of the victim.

The judge sent the man to prison, and the crowd in the back of the courtroom was surly. As I walked out of the courtroom, I heard a voice call my name. I turned on my heel, expecting to be verbally assaulted but, instead, I got a surprise.

One of the family members in the gallery who had not testified said: “I’m embarrassed by how my family acted in there. I just want to thank for speaking up for that child when none of us did.”

I thought of the pain of crime victims when I read about the case where an Ohioan attending Stanford, was convicted of sexual assault. The man has gained prominence as a competitive swimmer and he and the woman met at a party. A jury convicted him of sexual assaulting her while they were intoxicated.

Prior to sentencing, the woman he assaulted offered a moving in-court statement about the defendant’s impact on her life. Her eloquent words have reverberated across the internet and social media. Suddenly, millions of people are lamenting the plight of crime victims and calling for tougher sentences. There’s an effort to remove the judge for what many are calling a lenient sentence.

All I can say is: welcome to the cause.

I applaud this brave young woman for speaking out, but I’m surprised. The case is not unique. In fact, violent crime, distraught victims and lenient sentences are all too common. The FBI reports that more than 5 million violent crimes are committed every year.

Americans should realize that similar painful statements are read every day, in courthouses across the land, by courageous victims of violent crime. No one tweets or posts to Facebook about what was said. The tears on the crumpled tissue paper are barely dry before another criminal case comes before the court.

If you’re mad about all this, you might wonder what you can do. You can start by ensuring this case and this victim’s agony will be more than another viral moment. We should rally behind victims before judges impose lenient sentences, to help them achieve justice and return to as normal a life as possible.

We must also support the police and prosecutors who work diligently to protect and defend victims of crime like this. Our concern and our caring must be more than just a one and done proposition.

Activists and politicians who decry so called “stop and frisk” policies neglect to mention that police officers are typically investigating a crime with a vulnerable victim seeking justice. When victims give a description of the person who hurt them, police go looking for people who match that description. It’s not discrimination, it’s solid police work.

And Hollywood filmmakers who depict prosecutors as conspiratorial or dishonest do a disservice to the hard-working lawyers seeking to defend crime victims and enforce our laws. In fact, part of the Stanford victim’s stirring statement involved thanking the police and prosecutors in her case. She recognizes, as we all should, that these professionals are a force for good in a world beset by evil.

So let’s not let this viral internet moment get swallowed up by the next interesting online meme. Let’s remember the victim, the granddaughter victimized at the hands of her grandfather and let’s join with police and prosecutors who seek justice from the violent criminals.

Granville resident Mark R. Weaver has been a special prosecutor in multiple cases over the past two decades. He is a partner at Columbus law firm Isaac Wiles and teaches at The Ohio State University College of Law. Twitter: @MarkRWeaver